The different types of military drones
With contexts varying between different countries, it can be difficult to find your way around the world of drones. This panorama of different systems provides a compass.
A drone or Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) is a remotely-piloted aircraft, which is to say that it there is no pilot on board. Mission-specific payloads enable them to undertake a variety of missions, such as transporting equipment, capturing still and video imagery, mapping, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, target designation and the delivery of lethal or non-lethal weapons.
Unmanned air systems now play a significant role in conflicts and continue to attract a high degree of interest from military planners. But what are the origins of these systems and what are the main types in use today?
A bit of history
The original meaning of drone is a male honeybee that makes a deep, persistent or monotonous sound, and, even though UAVs now bear little resemblance to the first unmanned aircraft, that reference has become entrenched in the language. Industry professionals prefer to talk about Unmanned Air Vehicles or Remotely Piloted Air Systems.
The concept of a pilotless aircraft goes back the First World War. While the United States was developing the Hewitt-Sperry automatic airplane, in France, George Clémenceau, then chairman of senate armed forces committee also launched a project to develop a pilotless aircraft. Captain Max Boucher duly developed an automatic pilot that could fly a Voisin BN3 biplane over distances of 100 kilometres or more.
During WWII, the huge losses suffered by reconnaissance aircraft on all sides led directly to renewed interest in unmanned observation aircraft carrying neither pilot nor observer.
Observation drones were used for the first time during the Vietnam war and by Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Today, tactical and strategic UAVs are key battlefield assets. Because drones carry no crew, they can be deployed behind enemy lines without fear of loss of personnel.
Unmanned systems truly demonstrated their superior operational observation capabilities during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, their capabilities are especially appreciated in asymmetric conflicts.
The term Unmanned Air System (UAS) is also widely used because a UAV is typically part of a system comprising:
- one or more observation UAVs carrying various sensors
- one or more ground control stations that control the UAVs and receive sensor data
- radio datalinks between the UAVs and the control stations.
Military UAVs are classified into categories and subcategories according to their weight, speed, range and capabilities. The Nato UAS classification includes three classes.
Class I (< 150 kg): micro, mini and small
Thales uses several types of Class I UAVs in its C4I (Computerised Command Control Communication & Information) solutions to provide ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance) capabilities.
The FULMAR fixed-wing micro-UAV (with a maximum take-off weight of 20 kg) was developed by Thales and Wake Engineering. It offers endurance of 12 hours, a range of 90 km, a top speed of 100 km/h, a maximum altitude of 4,000 m and a payload capacity of 8 kg. Fulmar UAVs can be readily integrated with Thales maritime and land border surveillance solutions.
Launched by a small catapult and recovered in a net, Fulmars can be deployed from a ship's deck or on land. Key benefits include a deployment time of just 30 minutes and the fact that they can land on water.
Class II (150 to 600 kg): tactical
Tactical UAV systems are designed to serve as organic battalion-level or special forces assets for medium-range surveillance. They fill the gap between the capabilities of short-range micro-UAVs and strategic UAVs (MALE and HALE), combining flexibility, ruggedness and endurance. They are used for situation awareness, protection, surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition and damage assessment.
Thales is the prime contractor and systems integrator for Watchkeeper, currently the world’s most sophisticated tactical ISTAR system and Europe’s largest UAS programme. The Watchkeeper platform is the only large European UAV certified to fly in civilian airspace, including urban areas.
Class III (> 600 kg): Strategic
The endurance of MALE (Medium Altitude Long-Endurance) systems makes them ideal for the theatre-level surveillance and area reconnaissance. They are used to determine the position of enemy forces, the movement of non-combatant populations, the state of in-theatre infrastructure and to compile lists of targets.
The best known MALE systems include the Predator/Reaper, Heron and Anka families. The Global Hawk family is one of the few HALE (High Altitude Long-Endurance) systems currently available.
Unmanned combat air systems
An Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) uses drones designed specifically for combat and carrying both reconnaissance sensors and weapons.
The nEUROn, a European stealth UCAS technology demonstrator, featuring a range of Thales technologies, successfully completed its maiden flight on December 2012 from Dassault Aviation's flight test base near Istres in southern France with the support of the French defence procurement agency (DGA).
Today, Thales is developing onboard systems for the Franco-British FCAS Future Combat Air System, currently the sole experimental UCAS programme under way in Europe, with a view to leveraging the combined expertise of France and the United Kingdom in this area.
Already considered essential in the defence sector, unmanned air systems are expected to play an expanding role in civil applications. A pioneer in this emerging market, Thales launched the ‘Aetos’ project with the Aquitaine regional development authorities in Southwest France in 2010. The Aetos cluster aims to speed up the development of civil applications by drawing on a broad spectrum of drone technologies. Thales is also a major contributor to the French Council for civil UAS (Conseil pour les drones civils) sponsored by French civil aviation authority DGAC.
Access to airspace
Access to airspace is critical for both military and civil UAV systems. Before they can fly like ny other aircraft, three main challenges need to be overcome — regulations, safety and technology. Considering the market potential and the importance of resolving these issues, the European Commission has launched the European RPAS Steering Group while the European Defence Agency and other other EU institutions are conducting the Air4All, SIGAT and MIDCAS studies.
Watchkeeper is the only programme designed, built and tested to meet European civil and military UAV airworthiness criteria. It is also the only one to have been certified by the United Kingdom MoD's airworthiness authority.
Thales is at the forefront of innovation in the field of Unmanned Air Systems, addressing needs on the battlefield while helping to win access to civilian airspace. The company looks forward to further strengthening partnerships in this growing sector and consolidating its global leadership in high-performance manned and unmanned systems and a key partner in avionics, sensors and mission systems.
With total UAS revenues of more than €1.5 billion over the last ten years, Thales is the European market leader in unmanned air systems.
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Mon 22 Jun 2015, 15:17
Thanks for following @WeLovePAS2015 ! You can continue to follow us on @thalesgroup. Already looking forward to #PAS2017 !
- Mon 22 Jun 2015, 13:47 #Thales Launches New Gen #ElectronicFlightBag Application Suite with 1st Customer @airfrance t.co/bfSvtdVcdD t.co/eWm5nDz4Gt
- Sun 21 Jun 2015, 12:17 Arrive at the @salondubourget in a shuttle and leave with a ULM...;) Happy #FathersDay ! #fathersdaygifts t.co/zz8Rpq2CTd
- Sun 21 Jun 2015, 11:51 Arrive to the @salondubourget in a shuttle and leave with a ULM ;)...Happy #FathersDay ! #fathersdaygifts t.co/dIm6ZvaPST
- Sun 21 Jun 2015, 11:18 RT @salondubourget: Discover the aerospace production jobs. Visit the Careers Plane + the Jobs & Training Area. t.co/KJ33gbrSgV t.co/8UgHrxjtnr
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 16:04 RT @thales_avionics: Young generation pilot with @Emmanuelmacron on @thalesgroup cockpit #avionics 2020 #PAS15 t.co/0ZQUsy2yIJ
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 15:58 Head in the stars! #Thales #PAS15 t.co/bQwYUKa6fx
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 15:41 #PAS15 Public days: draw me a plane on #Thales chalet t.co/TbOXnGLoh0
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 14:17 RT @Thom_astro: I want to be on a comet too! All in with @ESA_Rosetta t.co/OVYa6vIUB8
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 14:13 RT @Raytheon: Check out all the coolest photos from the Paris Air Show this week: t.co/i80pltKOaR #PAS15 t.co/xZ9hks2XBR
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 14:06 #PAS15 Public days: official delegations let the floor to folks. # Rafale is so attractive t.co/5HDJNSU88E
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 13:58 #PAS15 Public days: walking on the tarmac is not as easy as it used to be t.co/sNkhi5xL2W
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 13:54 #PAS15 Public days: attendees younger, but interest remains strong @AvionMetiers @thalesjobs t.co/d70v5PqvHY t.co/nqXR8DjKlG
- Sat 20 Jun 2015, 11:20 .@EmmanuelMacron tests @thalesgroup's new #civil helmet #TopMax @salondubourget #PAS15 t.co/2uUxa4Nzl1 t.co/sbHi9CImME
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 18:03 Agressive look - A10 Thunderbolt II «Warthog» #PAS15 #salondubourget #parisairshow #avgeek t.co/H4A4947w4P
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 17:46 Future @PAFofficiel pilot at Thales stand t.co/pOrgNfGxVO
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 17:22 Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. Piper J3 Cub #avgeek #PAS15 t.co/18SVpJCiIr
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 16:42 Before/now. Le #Bourget as main airport of Paris in 60s and today #ParisAirShow #PAS15 t.co/QK4k7oxUXW
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 16:07 What a plane! #A400M #ParisAirShow #PAS15 t.co/piGy6j5Xgu
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 16:02 #Thales #IFE: Its intuitiveness makes it kid friendly #PAS15 t.co/1VZltQQbVH
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 15:56 @PAFofficiel in the air of #PAS15. @Armee_de_lair t.co/eJEqxJxTcM
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 15:49 RT @Patrice_Caine: "This Will Revolutionize the Travel Experience" Read my opinion piece on LinkedIn t.co/lmPDfOzGWx t.co/kPzek2fTqb
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 13:46 #Live #ParisAirShow #A350 #PAS15 t.co/xpuJ5IGJQL
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 12:45 RT @thalesgroup: Our CEO @Patrice_Caine with French Prime Minister @manuelvalls during his visit of our pavilion #PAS15 t.co/aU5Rsekehh
- Fri 19 Jun 2015, 12:19 More than 100 GM family radars sold since 2008: thank you for your trust! #Thales #ParisAirShow #PAS15 t.co/HqPGiYNrrQ
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 17:07 RT @AirbusDS: Fernando Alonso & Flight Test Crew before #A400M demonstration at #ParisAirShow #PAS15 #military t.co/6JW1go6qFv
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 17:07 RT @thales_avionics: Beautiful green eyes @Airbus #A400M ! #HUD #military #Avionics t.co/7pOpbzx46Z
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 17:02 Doing our best to share #PAS15 with you #GoingDigital t.co/MpcY9QaMyc t.co/xOjOcuXwIa t.co/y1kX75AMSS
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 15:07 #Thales Displays #CounterUAV Work t.co/jzKs7EgWPJ @AINonline #PAS15
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 15:02 .@Google eases the life of the general public, #Thales does it for #pilots. t.co/VVeScxoN8f t.co/ZtN03ZiiYU
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 14:55 RT @DassaultFalcon: Dassault's flight attendants pose with Hervé Laverne, #Falcon8X project test pilot, prior today's flight demo #PAS15 t.co/CJXzGbFTNw
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 14:26 Enjoy the #A350 XWB Air Show ! #PAS15 #ParisAirShow @AirbusGroup t.co/nfBxbJUilJ t.co/i5GOfcRnno
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 10:32 Spirit of St.Louis landing at Le Bourget field, May 21,1927 #ThrowbackThursday #PAS15 @salondubourget @airandspace t.co/cSZftGAIqZ
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 09:11 RT @defenseworld: Thales' I-Master Radar Integrates With (@TXTSystems) Textron AirLand's @ScorpionJet t.co/LYPVRemHhZ
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 08:57 RT @thalesgroup: .@omanair expands fleet with 25 Aircraft, B737 B787 and A330s flying with Thales #AVANT System t.co/aQz7NfJ3LW t.co/SQA0MTixTb
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 08:20 #Thales gives 2761€ to @GoodPlanet_ foundation to balance the 13tons of C02 emissions during the Thales event #COP21 t.co/juCSjDo3eF
- Thu 18 Jun 2015, 08:05 RT @salondubourget: Le temps va changer aujourd'hui, n'oubliez pas vos parapluies / Weather is changing today and rain may fall. Do not forget your umbrella!
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 17:02 Enjoy the #A400M Air show #Video #PAS15 #ParisAirShow t.co/UFZJTr4rDG t.co/LqroRrzpQm
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 16:50 e-Fan vs A380... #A380 #eFan #PAS15 t.co/7HrYYHMFVT
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 16:46 #PAS15 DYK the #satellite ground segment offer of #Thales is global and unrivalled #MilSatCom t.co/v8yIiSbs8r t.co/xK5jAMk3EN
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 16:08 Flamant MD 311 Dassault 1952 #PAS15 #Avgeek @Dassault_OnAir t.co/GKO1IeeiCy
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 15:09 Enjoy the #Rafale show #PAS15 #ParisAirShow t.co/IRGqoWBuof t.co/3RUSNVFHd4
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 14:56 15 million lines of code, 10 million km2 covered: @ThalesRaytheon showcases ACCS RT and ABM capabilities on #thales stand at #PAS15
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 14:10 We love this bird ! #A380 #PAS2015 #PAS15 @AirbusGroupLIVE t.co/mJbHOoDhA1
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 11:48 The King! @AirbusGroup #A350 #SalonduBourget #PAS15 t.co/UieqFw2gos
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 09:47 At Le Bourget, don't forget the vintage winged heroes! #Spitfire @MuseeAirEspace #PAS15 t.co/Zq9nm3Y8K7
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 09:14 Observing and wise. The #Thales Top Owl helmet, on display on @Defense_gouv stand #PAS15 t.co/qh8nHppOwi
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 08:39 RT @AviationWeek: Catch up with the latest news on day 3 of the Paris Air Show: t.co/aGhmLYQSdm #PAS15 t.co/55kIYfM2b7
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 08:37 Good morning #PAS15 ! #Ariane5 #PerfectSky t.co/YCqhI0bqox
- Wed 17 Jun 2015, 07:56 RT @Jalopnik: Why this futuristic flying boat won't replace airliners anytime soon t.co/WeSG0vKE24 t.co/CbG2nTZcY5
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 17:35 #StarNG in the spotlight on @France24 with #Thales Frédéric Perret and @karinaf24 t.co/NITGT5khUm
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 16:07 Guess which animal is painted on @qatarairways planes tail-fins? t.co/xkr1QGuNkl
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 15:40 At #PAS15, only the right stuff @Thom_astro @ESA t.co/hJcOZEnK1z
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 14:29 An organic counter-UAV solution with hornets? Try the #thalesgroup Squire captor instead t.co/z5elzDCJ3n t.co/n3BKcp0NWQ
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 14:03 Extreme close up! @Defense_gouv @Dassault_OnAir #Rafale #PAS15 t.co/MDVfjb02si
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 12:31 #TopPerformingCompanies: #Thales awarded by @AviationWeek t.co/37eh3Awa79
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 12:02 RT @Dassault_OnAir: The #PAS15 is the opportunity for Dassault Aviation to see its Rafale aircraft fly in a spectacular demonstration... t.co/014ygMk0MC
- Tue 16 Jun 2015, 09:40 Soft landing for the #Rafale ! @Dassault_OnAir #PAS15 t.co/Xn7hlmv54N
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 18:04 .@omanair and #Thales to offer the best fully customizable #PAXEX with @android #AVANT IFE system #InflytExperience t.co/onM8BShSOK
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 17:37 Simple connectivity for complex air operations management #PAS15 t.co/tUk42YysVv t.co/3GrdetvRnJ
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 16:32 A majestic flight of @Airbus #A380 over the #PAS15 sky t.co/o3obuYDxCC
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 16:05 European Transport Commissioner @Bulc_EU chats with Caroline, Thales Technician #careersplane #PAS15 @EU_Commission t.co/ni131jAALX
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 15:41 #Thales counter #UAV technologies earn great interest from @RoyalSegolene #PAS15 #PAS2015 t.co/oY6AauZzDE t.co/hsnyxFuZ6d
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 15:03 French Environment minister @RoyalSegolene visited #Thales stand @Patrice_Caine #PAS15 #COP21 #ParisAirShow t.co/adgkxYr6Nb
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 13:17 #Thales plans headset to improve pilot safety t.co/oAc0c0dg3F via @WSJ
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 10:51 #LIVE Bibendum is at Paris Air Show #Michelin t.co/Toivux955T
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 10:37 Rafale protects our stand #OurNeighbours #TeamFrance @Dassault_OnAir t.co/uxDSrj3sxB
- Mon 15 Jun 2015, 09:38 Welcome to Paris Air Show! #PAS15 #thales t.co/v4LsjLbKas
- Sun 14 Jun 2015, 21:28 RT @salondubourget: [OFFICIAL] Discover the flight schedule for Monday 15 June (more information on Facebook) t.co/7RIhDy91gj
- Sun 14 Jun 2015, 12:22 RT @DGACfr: #Salondubourget 2015 numéro spécial de l'#Aviation Civile Magazine de juin t.co/eEwX0ZfgLe t.co/VtGyqx2Yvo
- Fri 12 Jun 2015, 14:32 RT @rollsroyce: With 1,500 engines sold already, discover why our #TrentXWB is an industry game changer #PAS15 t.co/leMiqvnPE9 t.co/DEOU5eGgcP
- Fri 12 Jun 2015, 11:24 RT @chirine_SDA: 3 Days Left To #PAS15 !! @SDArabia 's Team is looking forward to seeing you there! @OnAimeLeBourget @WeLovePAS2015 t.co/yl8n1OYyVV
- Fri 12 Jun 2015, 10:59 RT @BoeingAirplanes: Watch this video! #Boeing 787 pilots rehearse for the Paris Air Show. t.co/MJaIxiUBH5 #Dreamliner #PAS2015 t.co/w98UARvY3W
- Thu 11 Jun 2015, 19:29 [DYK?] For more than 20 years #Thales plays a major role within #SYRACUSE programs in X band and EHF
- Thu 11 Jun 2015, 13:20 RT @AstroSamantha: Early start into Day 200 in #space. It's been an amazing journey, thx for coming along! Now time to go home to Earth. t.co/Rzs03BDL2A
- Thu 11 Jun 2015, 11:58 RT @RunwayGirl: Aerospace focuses more funding on #cybersecurity in face of threats t.co/lDUNh9iSmf via @benkepes #AvGeek t.co/nbY1cRsGkf
- Thu 11 Jun 2015, 09:43 RT @JetwayMJ: At #ParisAirShow @thalesgroup plans 2 demo 1st ever head-worn augmented reality visor 4 civil pilots. #avgeek t.co/AkdBxlRF6k
- Wed 10 Jun 2015, 18:49 Smarter #data for space: 1 billion stars mapped by Gaia with Thales processing infrastructure t.co/VMLGZDwINn t.co/M6RodMQNWv
- Wed 10 Jun 2015, 18:05 #Thales secures first export contract for #TALIOS targeting pod t.co/UchV9bNRDj #PAS15 t.co/mF5tKQiJjp
- Wed 10 Jun 2015, 15:01 Army to carry out #Watchkeeper training as of October via @Flightglobal t.co/h6JNtmJYAH #PAS15 t.co/k9uQqG8IHZ
- Wed 10 Jun 2015, 10:33 RT @salondubourget: Des avions sont installés, plein d'autres arrivent aujourd'hui / First aircraft are on site, others are coming today! t.co/ozhDNu267G
- Wed 10 Jun 2015, 09:02 France's @Dassault_OnAir #Rafale Fighter Jet is "en vogue" via @AviationWeek t.co/twoU5RSlKp t.co/M6hulcjsas
- Tue 09 Jun 2015, 17:50 Two out of three aircraft take off and land with #Thales equipement t.co/iVpdm2H5Ah
- Tue 09 Jun 2015, 11:07 Some strange birds are expected at #PAS15! @ScorpionJet t.co/VcAXYruykD t.co/ZRc7QA0QXO
- Mon 08 Jun 2015, 18:05 .@ESA heading towards removing #SpaceDebris t.co/QvK2mM7jIM #Gravity t.co/Jnzds41bN0
- Mon 08 Jun 2015, 12:01 RT @Telegraph #Rosetta's final mission will be to land next to lander #Philae t.co/1QXERbTDSK t.co/7zqN7MNamG
- Mon 08 Jun 2015, 08:41 New-generation avionics: plain sailing for pilots #PAS15 t.co/CLVXpQMmKO
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 17:01 #Thales tests touch interaction solutions in harsh environments #PAS15 t.co/uJkcPZciHP t.co/YVN5eEssJ2
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:23 Thales Training Solutions for helicopters. We deliver mission-readiness. #PAS15 t.co/9ZsHoc7GqU t.co/IpuP5zClLS
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:21 Thales to secure critical step for OneSKY delivery t.co/jt55APcSKD t.co/HMgKBloPDF
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:18 #Avionics2020 cockpit: a leap forward #PAS15 t.co/2gxoHNNuVA t.co/LRXgMvSxbS
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:16 Spacebus NEO: 100% electric! #PAS15 t.co/MDPl9Y9XLU t.co/pfxtZGiFs9
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:13 Focus is on both passenger and airline experience ? Not Just IFE anymore t.co/svRwpLo7k1 #PAS15 t.co/7CBTIMd6T9
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:11 Thales InFlyt Experience, the smart choice for the connected airline t.co/qhwriLVrM3 t.co/ytGolPZEC9
- Fri 05 Jun 2015, 16:08 There's a new STAR in Primary Surveillance #Radar?#PAS15 t.co/CHCbDG1iIi t.co/5yV3BvjWCL
- Thu 04 Jun 2015, 11:45 Reduce the #CarbonFootPrint : #Thales develops innovative solutions for its customers. #Innovation #COP21 #Climate #PAS15
- Thu 04 Jun 2015, 11:43 #Thales, a high tech group mobilized for the climate @COP21 #Climate #Innovation #Environment #PAS15
Thu 04 Jun 2015, 11:41
Aviation has a long history and a bright future! #AirplanesMovie t.co/gI6V4LNE3w #PAS15
- Thu 04 Jun 2015, 11:39 Some strange birds are expected at #PAS15 t.co/BQXnsiw6QE @ArmyRecognition t.co/e7gv6CVaEn
Thu 04 Jun 2015, 11:36